Daniel Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin

Elgar: Symphony No. 2

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Prior to his highly regarded 2012 Decca release of the Elgar Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein, Daniel Barenboim had made no albums of this composer's music since the 1990s. The acclaim that the Cello Concerto brought seems to have opened up the possibilities of presenting more Elgar, as this 2014 CD of the Symphony No. 2 in E flat major suggests. Performing with the Staatskapelle Berlin, which plays with great vigor and expressiveness, Barenboim explores this piece in light of Elgar's ambiguous situation in 1911, the year he completed the symphony. With a mixture of delayed fin de siècle nostalgia for the vanishing age of empire, and an obvious skepticism in anticipation of the approach of modernism, Elgar deals with change in this unsteady work, and the strain shows. Barenboim is a sympathetic interpreter, and he gives the music ample passion and a nearly Wagnerian twilight radiance. However, Elgar's unsettling dissonances, passages of hectic activity, and the occasional harshness of his orchestration call for a frank assessment, and this performance is unsparing in communicating Elgar's anxieties. Barenboim's strong aptitude for late Romanticism, especially in his performances of Brahms, Bruckner, and Tchaikovsky, leads him naturally to Elgar, and the success of this disc should persuade him that fresh readings of the Enigma Variations, the Symphony No. 1, and others of Elgar's masterworks are needed. Highly recommended.

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